Monthly Archives: June 2012

Twitter flips off Linkedin

Okay I used another headline for inspiration on my title – Twitter Gives LinkedIn The Bird (LNKD). An interesting decision by Twitter. The basics are that you cannot use Twitter to push content to LinkedIn and populate the “share an update” part of your LinkedIn account. The reverse will continue to be feasible – if you post on LinkedIn you can push that to Twitter. Clearly Twitter wants to be the platform and the vehicle for content creation, it does not want to share that content repository.

I guess someone doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate…

Rumors are that both companies could not agree on an advertising deal or that Tweeter got spooked at the password hacking that struck LinkedIn. Whatever the reason, I think this is a gamble for Twitter. The relationship between Twitter and LinkedIn gave it a position of strength vis a vis other social platforms…namely Facebook. The “Whats on your mind” feature on Facebook is a great vehicle to communicate with our network…people we want to be in our circle. The power of tying LinkedIn and Twitter is that via Twitter you could a larger public audience while still tying back to your professional circles. This make Twitter/LinkedIn a stronger social vehicle for businesses and professional communications.

To me this tie in gave Twitter a more grown up angle. Now that the tie has been broken, there is an opportunity for someone to fill that void. A twitter like app from LinkedIn? I understand that Twitter wants to validate its existence by hosting more content and being able to do all the wonderful data mining that allows (click here for a story about the partnership and why it made sense). But, cutting the cord with the adult in the social media room is a gamble.

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Filed under Current Events, Social media

Old Navy shapes demand…for only $1!

North American consumers have gotten to know Old Navy as the “less expensive” alternative in the Gap/Banana Republic family. A wonderful store to get basics for the entire family at a very reasonable price. Case in point – I looked at a pair of basic khaki shorts there last year that cost me $12, when a very similar pair (probably came off the same assembly line) was priced at over $40 at Banana Republic! Old Navy has done a good job carving out its place in the market and fits well into the Gap universe.

Something else Old Navy does very well – Demand Shaping. While the Gap and Banana Republic do their fair share of promotions and attempts to shape demand, Old Navy has an uncanny ability to drive disproportionate traffic to their stores with what would appear to be minor promotions. Take the following for example:

One whole dollar…100 pennies…4 quarters….10 dimes okay you get the point. And we are talking about flip flops, basically a pair of rubber with a plastic tube that fits between our toes…The amazing thing, this drives incredible demand for Old Navy. Just go to a store during one of these sales. It is the “lord of the flies.” Just read what some reactions are on the Old Navy facebook page:

  • What time do the stores open?
  • is there a limit ??? and what time does it start
  • I was going to get them for my wedding favors but it is limit 5.
  • When does it start? As soon as the stores open? Or does it start earlier something like a Black Friday sale..?
  • Old navy–is there still a 5 flops per transaction policy? Gotta make sure I have enough hands with me! 😉
  • I will be there at 5 in day morning again! Yay! 🙂

And one of my favorite posts….”they are $1 at the Dollar Store year round.” But that is not the point! Old Navy has stuck a nerve with their audience and they have found a way, for $1, to do some serious demand shaping. Even the fans of the Old Navy flip flops state that they know they are not as comfortable as other brands, but hey for $1 max out with 5 pair and once they are worn, get rid of them! (sorry that was not very environmentally friendly)

The beauty of Old Navy is that since they sell a large assortment of basics, there is always something you “need.” I need a new pair of khaki shorts…That solid polo looks good, oh it is only $9 I will get it with my $1 flip flops… see what I am driving at? Old Navy will drive greater traffic to stores and cross sell/up-sell  once the patrons are there. Time this with the upcoming July 4th week, where many will be with family and loved ones heading to barbeques and the beach (I will most likely be working…) and you have the perfect demand shaping opportunity.

Old Navy has found a way to elicit an emotion and behavior with something so banal as a flip flop, that as one of the comments on the Old Navy facebook page pointed out…are always a dollar at the Dollar Store! I am sure their in store sales during this $1 sale are very healthy. The problem with the sale, you cannot over use it otherwise it will lose its appeal. If Old Navy started having these sales all the time – $1 flip flops – the appeal would wane.

As a business, think about what offerings you could make to illicit this reaction and ability to shape demand. This is not just for the B2C world either. It does not have to be a promotion, but it can be some event (and not simply a user conference type event) that is anticipated and drives attention.

Otherwise I will see you at Old Navy, I have a $2 bill, 7 quarters, 8 dimes, 2 nickles and 35 pennies lying around. I need my flip flops!

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Filed under Current Events, Demand Shaping, Supply Chain

Customer service – a game changer?

I was having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about our recent customer service experiences. And it dawned on me. Is good customer service really that important?

 

 

We have been told over and over about how good this company’s customer service is and how terrible this one was…but does it impact our buying patterns? No. At least not in certain industries. Take for example airlines. One of my recent experiences was with United. I was trying to get credit for some miles, I went online, tried their automated customer service. Nothing. Actually worse than nothing, it basically put me into a loop on their site and I could not get out! Finally I sent an email…still waiting to hear. But am I going to stop flying United? No. Why? Status and miles. I also recently called American Airlines, had a slightly better experience, but still not great. Again. Not going to leave them either for the same reasons I am stuck with United!

Same thing with Sirius satellite radio. I called them this week about a billing issue, one that I thought was fairly simple to resolve. They could not. Their customer service was less than helpful. But I am not going to cancel my service.

What about good customer service? The MacBook I am typing one was recently purchased at a local Apple store where I experience excellent customer service. But really, I wanted a Mac, if the “geniuses” that are running around the cool store in blue shirts were not as happy and nice would I go to Best Buy to get a Dell or Lenovo? No. Granted the superior customer service made my overall experience much better, but it would have changed my buying behavior.

Granted, customer service is part of a great equation. And alone it is not a differentiator or a deal breaker. While we would hope all our customer experiences are like those at Apple stores or at Tiffanys, companies do not have a real incentive to improve this area if their industry is not know for good customer service. Industries, other than retail, usually do not roll out customer service until the product or service is purchased. Therefore, you are already “captured” and you may be more tolerant of bad customer service because the switching cost might be too painful.

So before you get too excited about a company with fantastic customer service or whether or not you should invest greater capital in that department, think about what customer service really means for your business.

 

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Microsoft looks to regain its place in corporate IT with new Surface tablet

Well well well, look who is getting back into the tablet game! Microsoft. Least we forget that before the iPad became a part of our every day vocabulary, the Microsoft operating system was powering the first versions of “tablets.” I remember my boss had a tablet, which was really just a lap top with a screen that swiveled to sit flush on top of the key board and a stylus that allowed you to write directly on the screen. Very sleek, but nothing compared to the iPad or the Android powered tablets we see today.

But now our friends from Redmond have come out with a new tablet, one that is going after the Galaxies and iPads of the world. But is it too little too late?

The video demonstrating the device is sleek and the device itself looks intriguing, but the reality is it looks like…a real thin laptop. See video:

Is Microsoft wasting its time? Maybe. But they are big enough that they can afford the investment and even if this is a lost leader they need to try and wrestle away some of the momentum that Apple and Google are enjoying in the tablet world.

The reality is that tablets, like the iPad, are cutting into the Microsoft domain of corporate IT. I remember a meeting I had about a year ago with a dozen members of my company at the time, including executives. There was one laptop open. 5 years ago there would have been one laptop for each participant. Instead we were all on our iPads. IT departments have been racing to find a way to monitor these new devices and ensure they are secure. It used to be so easy – windows and Blackberry servers and you were set! Not anymore.

The introduction of the Surface for Microsoft might give the IT departments an out, a way to get tablets in the hands of their employees while retaking control of the device. It is a gamble, and I do not think you will see people giving up their iPads. However, the Surface gives Microsoft a fighting chance to become relevant in tablets and could curtail the explosion of non Windows devices getting into the corporate ecosystem.

As the laptop’s role as the computing power horse for corporations continues to wane, the Surface might just give Microsoft a chance to regain some of the market share they are losing.

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Filed under Current Events, IT, Technology

The consumer profiling battle…we are being watched

 

This week I became full indoctrinated with the Apple iCloud. While I have become a serious Apple follower – I am typing on my MacBook Pro, my smartphone is an iPhone, my tablet an iPad and I have my iPod plugged into my car. This is nothing short of a minor miracle since 15 years ago I vowed I would never purchase an Apple product…oops. Now I am leveraging iCloud to keep my contacts, my calendar and back up my pictures.

What I realized is we are in the midst of a fresh battle amongst the technology giants. A battle for how to get to our information, how to leverage connectivity (aka the cloud and mobility) to better profile us. And with better profiles more effective marketing and selling. Here is how I see it:

  • Apple – with the iCloud, coupled with all the devices Apple has seeded into our lives they are storing and have access to our music, movie, television and podcast preferences. Apple can also understand what electronic tools we use with our devices: are we using a lot of photo apps? Or when someone is downloading apps to understand when it is best to get pregnant. Or that someone is leveraging travel apps…the list goes on. Apple is learning about profiling us through our devices.
  • Facebook – clearly the social giant is looking to gain and map all our social activities. Who are our friends, who are our “close friends” … still not sure what that is all about. They encourage us to tell Facebook who is in our family, what their relationship is, who we are married to, separated from, divorced from or “it is complicated” with…They are now becoming a massive photo repository, encouraging us to “tag” those in the pictures with us – data that can help establish who is in our network and who we have influence with and who might influence us. Facebook is profiling us by encouraging us to profile ourselves through the desire to share with our network.
  • Google. The search giant first and foremost is able to track what we search for, but now with their other assets they can profile us via our Gmail account, or google talk, or Google + oh wait no uses that…Google wants to be able to index every piece of information that is out there. So they can better understand how we use that information and make better advertisement and marketing pushes!
  • Amazon. Yes that old CD and Book seller is a real power when it comes to understanding our behaviors. They do a wonderful job understanding our buying behaviors and how to up-sell us. With the likes of Kindle, they can also understand what we read. As they encourage us to “showroom” with brick and mortar retailers and then use the Amazon app to see how much less expensive it is on their site. The information they are gathering is gold as it is real time sale and demand data – think of the “wish list” function.

These are just a few examples, but clearly there is a battle for who can best profile us. Which tech player or which industry (banks, insurance, grocery stores…) do a better job profiling us?

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Filed under Marketing, Technology

Self help – not what it used to be

A big trend when it comes to customer service is to leverage online chats. I get this with my bank, I forget a password or have a question and I can instant message with someone. Granted they are walking through a script just like what happens when you actually speak to someone on the phone, so it take sometimes just as long. But at least you are not sitting on the phone listening to horrible 80s soft jazz.

But I had another experience with the same system, this time with one of the airlines I fly – United. United Airlines had rolled out Alex, she is an avatar that is suppose to help you with navigating through the United web site and supposedly answer questions. Recently I had a question about some miles I wanted credit for (need to get to the next status level!) I went into the web site and of course they always want your ticket number, reservation number, three pictures of the actual plane you flew and a signed note from your mom. And of course I no longer have my ticket. So I clicked on the “contact us” link on the United site hoping I could send and email or call someone that could assist me in getting my credit…but the only option seems to be our friend Alex.

So I did as she asked, and typed in my question…to which she “directed” me to the section of the web site that has all the information about asking for a credit…which I had already gone to on my very own! When I typed in a more specific question about not having my ticket information, Alex just sent me back to the same page. Ugh.

I realize companies are trying to avoid incurring costs associated with actual people in customer service, I realize companies are looking to stream line the experience. However when your solution is what appears to be chat, which we are all accustomed to, and all that chat does is send you to links that you could have navigated to on your own. That is called poor or a lack of customer service!

Airlines like Banks like the multitude of vendors that have an online presence must realize is that while they no longer rely as heavily on brick and mortar, there remains a brick and mortar element. Human assistance. I realize that United does not want to be inundated with calls. But not answering my question, whether via an avatar or an actual person, is not the way to provide customer service.

Come on United, give Alex a real voice!

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Filed under Customer Service, Technology

Microsoft Stores…really?

So I was in the Prudential Mall the other day, in Boston, and saw a most peculiar sight – an announcement of a new Microsoft Store. Hmmm I wondered, I had heard that the software giant was thinking of such a move. Clearly their friends at Apple have tweaked them by becoming wildly successful with the Apple stores. No surprise that this particular Microsoft store is going to be opened across the street from where the Apple Store is located. What to make of this?

  • Microsoft is playing catch up with Apple when it comes consumer facing. I am not sure opening a store is going to close that gap. Microsoft is the plumbing that allows PCs and other devices to function. Apple is the experience – does anyone go into an Apple store because of a new version of Lion? Well probably some people…but still that is not the draw.
  • Microsoft does not really have its own branded “cool” devices…maybe the Xbox, but otherwise they are just sitting on other devices – Lenovo, HP, Dell to name a few. So will the Microsoft store have all these devices? If so, how is that any different than Best Buy? Apple’s devices are eye candy as well as being great products (I never thought I would say that 15 years ago), not sure Microsoft has that in their repertoire.
  • The Apple stores are great because they offer service for your Apple products. I would argue that if Microsoft offered this service they would have people queuing up for days since we have all had our fair share of issues with the OS. But in Microsoft’s case this might not be a good thing.

I get that Microsoft is trying to get back in the game with regards to Apple. But I think focusing on better products and experience would be a good step rather than a store. Maybe if Microsoft focused their stores on the Xbox as the anchor they might have a fighting chance. Apple does not have a comparable gaming platform, the only one that really does is Sony. Microsoft could look at their stores as a way to showcase the Xbox and potentially work with the likes of EA to make the experience closer to a gaming/entertainment venue. If they just showcase clunky laptops and tablets…they are not going to beat the experience and products available at the Apple store.

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Filed under Technology